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Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Random recollections of childhood days in Kuala Pilah

Residential Area, Kuala Pilah

Random recollections of childhood days in Kuala Pilah 
By C S Wan

The early years of my childhood, during the Japanese Occupation, were spent in a small village in Batu Berendam, Melaka.  After the war we followed our parents back to Kuala Pilah where father had worked as a clerk in the State Forest Department prior to the Japanese invasion. Most of our childhood years were spent in this small town and it was only after father passed away that we moved back to our hometown in Melaka.

Our house at 246-B, Residential Area,  in Kuala Pilah was a typical Government quarters of the colonial era. The white wooden house with russet, tiled roofs stood on concrete stilts.

The house at 246-B Residential Area in the 1950s

The house at 246-B Residential Area in 2010

 It had a spacious air-well which was fenced by high wooden plank walls. Within the enclosure stood a detached kitchen and a storeroom. At one corner of the air-well stood a detached, concrete toilet with the bucket system. The house overlooked a playing field and a hard beaten dirt track ran along the side of the house. The playing field, the space under the house, the side lane and the air-well were the playgrounds of our youth.   

The playing field in front of the house in 2010

In those days life was simple and carefree. Without television and computer to confine us to the house we spent most of our playing time outdoor, We had the run of the whole neighbourhood and our parents were not unduly worried about  us being kidnapped. Our games would often begin in the morning and end when the light finally failed.

We did not have expensive toys or sophisticated sports equipment.
We made our own tops, kites, toy guns, other toys and sports equipment from materials which were readily available in and around the house. Our first hockey sticks were crafted from  branches and our hockey balls were used tennis balls.

Toys and games we used to play


Top spinning

Exchange cigarette packs

Game of kaunda kaundi

Bamboo toy guns

Fighting spider

Besides the toys and childhood games, these are some of the other things I remember about our childhood days in Kuala Pilah.

In the evening the sky over the playing field would be adorned with kites of various shapes and colours as the men vied with each other to display their creativity and kite flying skill.

An evening sky adorned with kites

As soon as dusk set in, the air would be filled with the squabbling cries of birds settling for the night on electric lines and on  stately tembusu trees in front of the nearby Ulu Muar Club.

Birds roosting on electric lines

In the gloom of the gathering darkness we would sometimes catch sight of a lone, murky  figure with a long bamboo pole slung across a shoulder making his way across the field. The familiar springy steps and the spicy aroma that rose and wafted towards us, told us   it was 'wak' the itinerant Javanese satay vendor. 

An itinerant satay seller

On other nights our nostrils would tingle with the fragrance of fried kuih teow and we knew father was bringing home our favourite supper, even before his soft footfalls sounded the wooden floor boards.   Wrapped in areca palm frond ( upeh ) the kuih teow  had a distinctive flavour and fragrance which have not been duplicated to this day.

Food wrapped in 'upeh'

As we sat on the flight of steps and watched dusk melt into night, the front lawn would suddenly be punctuated by the flickering lights of fireflies. Caught and bottled, we watched their golden glow until it  grew dimmer and then the fireflies were released  into the cool night air.   

Fireflies caught and bottled

When the night was fine we would sit on the  verandah with our homemade toys and enjoy the cool night breeze that blew from the open field. Father would sit on a low rattan chair at his customary place next to the main door while he read the morning papers and  the many magazines: Life, Times, Radio Weekly etc which were neatly stack next to his chair. Occasionally, he would pause from his reading to sing and tap to the strains of the oldies that drifted from the Grundig radio. 

Father reading the morning papers

At the crack of dawn, mother would be in the detached kitchen preparing breakfast for her school-going children. On a wood-burning stove a big aluminium kettle was already hissing to a boil and soon the early morning air would be filled with the sweet aroma of freshly brewed and home-grated coffee. 

Above the clink of china and the clank of pots and pans came the chatter and laughter of school children from the side lane of the house.  My brother and I would soon join our friends as we followed a hard beaten dirt track that meandered toward Tuanku Muhammad School. 

Tuanku Muhammad School 1946

Tuanku Muhammad School 2010

Meanwhile, my two younger sisters would walk to the nearby Chung Wah Chinese School.

There were hardly any cars on the road and even the adults either walk or cycle to work. Father too cycled to work on his faithful Raleigh bicycle and he was always attired in his neatly pressed and well-starched white shirt and long trousers. 

During the weekends, we would sometimes 'borrow' father's Raleigh bicycle for our cycling lessons which were conducted on the open front lawn of the few row of houses. As the bicycle's seat was too high for us, we had to find an alternative way of managing the bicycle. Often we would fail to brake in time and we had to pin our faith and trust on the low bamboo hedge at the end of the lawn to break our advance and cushion our fall. 

Learning to ride a bicycle

The small town of Kuala Pilah had little to offer in terms of entertainment and so the government officers usually spent most of their free time, playing tennis or billiard, at the Ulu Muar Club.

The Ulu Muar Club, Kuala Pilah
Photo credit: Devamany

Occasionally, the local residents would be entertained to a free film show which was screened at the playing field in front of our house.. They were usually feature films about economic development that had taken place after the war  and documentary films on the communist insurgency in Malaya. 

Watching documentary films screened by the Malayan Film Unit

In the early 1950s, the Majestic Theater was constructed to cater for the entertainment needs of the local residents and nearby towns and villages.

The Majestic Theater in 1950

Sometimes, the silence of the morning would be broken by the sputtering of an engine and we would rush out of the house to see a low-flying plane skimming the tree tops and dropping anti-communists propaganda leaflets. 

A plane dropping propaganda leaflets

Of all the fond memories of my childhood days, the memories of our childhood home at the Residential Area, Kuala Pilah are among the most precious.

Photos credit: Some  photos are sourced from Google 

Isla Grant _  Childhood Memories

Daniel O'Donnell _ My Fathers House

Blues Gang _ Apo Nak Di Kato

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